With a tech-savvy community like apartment dwellers waiting to be serveds, it was only a matter of time before someone took the opportunity of online communications seriously, writes Jimmy Thomson

Smartphone apps that transmit requests for repairs directly to building managers, interactive electronic notice boards in apartment block lobbies and online portals that allow issues to be discussed and debated before they even get to a meeting – that’s the brave new world of strata revealed in Sydney today (Wednesday).

Meanwhile, under the same system, strata and building facilities managers will be able to remotely access and monitor lifts, water pumps, electricity supplies and other infrastructure elements to keep buildings running smoothly.

“The strata management industry has been focussed for too long on what owners see as a negative – the delivery of invoices and collection of levies,” Greg Nash, Managing Director and Group CEO of Prudential Investment Company of Australia (PICA), the largest single entity in the strata industry, told Domain. “That has sadly led to a race to the bottom as far as fees are concerned.”

Now, about 350,000 strata residents in more than 12,000 unit blocks are about to be part of the “the most significant technology investment in Australian strata management history,” according to online management software developers Urbanise.com and PICA, the parent company for a raft of strata management firms.

The two companies today signed a 10-year, $16 million partnership that will see existing systems streamlined while technological innovations are used to open up communications with and within strata communities.

The online, cloud-based service comes at a critical time for NSW strata owners when incoming strata laws will allow for online voting while seriously restricting proxy votes at strata meetings.

“Cloud-based solutions will become fundamental to professionalising strata service delivery in the future,” said Nash. “There is no reason that individual buildings can’t have their own apps for residents so they can report repairs, access information and express their views.”

The system will be introduced to existing PICA Group strata management companies, including Body Corporate Services (BCS), Mason and Brophy, NSW Strata, Dynamic Property Services, GK Strata, and Strata 3.  Their 12,000 strata schemes include residential, commercial, resorts, and mixed-use properties across New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland.

Later the systems will be opened up commercially for use by non-PICA strata and building management firms.

“We are implementing our entire product suite for PICA – MyStrata, MyCommunity, CRM, service delivery, mobile workforce, e-services and facilities management,” says David Bugden, Urbanise’s Global Head of Strata. “We have an exciting vision for the strata industry and we are delighted that PICA has partnered with us to transform the domestic and international strata market.”

Conceding that many of these facilities are already available independently, the joint venture’s executives see the development and roll-out of the whole package as both a challenge and opportunity.

“Some of our strata companies are using off-the-peg software or systems that they have developed themselves,” Senior Program Manager David D’Arcy told Domain. “We will have to integrate their information into our system, then train them how to use it.”

He estimated it would take another year to fully develop the systems then another 18 months to complete the roll-out. Meanwhile a 5000-unit scheme in Sydney is being used to trial the system

“These are very exciting times,” Gary Bugden, the widely acknowledged “Godfather of Strata” told Domain. “Some strata managers are notoriously reluctant to give owners too much information.  This will give owners and tenants all the information they want, right at their fingertips.”

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